Monday, June 16, 2008


Directed by Paul Haggis
* * * (Three Stars)

I got this film from Netflix three weeks ago and it's been sitting on my shelf. I was avoiding it for two reasons: I have to be in the right mood to watch a downer and I'm not a gigantic fan of Paul Haggis.

Crash was a movie that I knew I shouldn't like, but I liked it nonetheless. In fact, there are some really memorable scenes in Crash that are actually inspiring to me as a filmmaker. But Haggis' broad strokes and heavy handed commentary kept the film from feeling like a masterpiece.

Those same obstacles are in Elah, but just not as bombastic.

The story, based on actual events, is this: A soldier comes home from Iraq and then, within days, goes missing. His father (Tommy Lee Jones), a war veteran himself, travels to his son's military base and starts to look for him. A crime scene is discovered and its argued whether the jurisdiction falls with the police or with the military. The detective on the case (Charlize Theron) is reluctant until certain bombshells are dropped that start to paint a bigger picture. A murder mystery that soon transcends itself into a strong anti-war statement.

The first two acts of the film are straight forward and easy on bashing you over the head with politics and jargin (unlike Crash). Jones is brilliant as the strong hearted, quiet spoken father. I can now understand why this film gave him his Oscar nomination. He plays his pain softly and with a striking sense of realism.

The third act goes places I was not expecting and I was utterly enraptured in the final message of the film.

To sum it up, without spoilers, The Valley of Elah is where David met Goliath in a tale from The Old Testament. Goliath was such an intimidating soldier, that not even the best soldiers on the other side would face him. Then one day, a child by the name of David, told the king that he was willing to fight. The king was impressed and said, "Yes, here's my armor and sword. Go fight him." David, being a child, said "This armor is too heavy and I can't use a sword. I'll use my slingshot." And then, as the fairy tale goes, David stood his ground before the giant Goliath and, with the killer running at him sword drawn, slingshot a rock into his head. Goliath fell dead and David was a hero.

Charlize Theron, who is telling this story to her 6 year old son, is shocked when he asks, "Why would the king send such a little boy out to fight such a scary giant?" She says, "I don't know... I guess that was silly of him." Her son asks, "Wasn't the little boy scared?" She responds, "I'm sure... I'm sure he was afraid..."

Her young son's innocent, yet clear mind, sums up the entire movie in my opinion. As well as what going on in Iraq right now. In the fairy tale, and in the minds of George Bush and neo-conservatives, David defeats the Evil Giant and comes home a hero and a king. In reality, David comes home a mess, often confused or scarred. And sometimes, David never comes home.

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